Let’s Get Thrifty: A Guide to Sustainable Fashion

By Sanjana Swaroop for Twisted Tiara

We have become extremely brand conscious in India, with the increase in earning power of the middle class. We are quick to judge people by their attire and logos stitched onto their outfits. People are likely to judge you more harshly if you tell them you buy secondhand clothes. I worked at a charity thrift shop when living in London for a while and it changed my ideology about garments, shopping and fashion. I haven’t come across a single thrift stores in India, so I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce India to the idea and ideology of thrifting.

The concept of thrifting is that people donate their used clothing and items, which are then refurbished and/or sold. There is a perception that second hand clothes shopping is dirty or somehow unhygienic, but that’s far from the truth. From personal experience, I can tell you that all items received were first sorted. The sorting room, was less magical than it sounds. It is where all items received were segregated according to type: shoes, accessories, scarves, casual t-shirts, formal blouses, shirts, skirts, pants, so on and so forth. We also kept an eye out for items that were too worn out to be actually sold at the thrift store. Those items would be put in the recycling bin.

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Once the clothes were sorted, we would check each item carefully for stains, wear and tear, and general condition (whether they seem bug infested or not). Depending on what we’d find, the clothes would either be sent for repairs and mending, or heavy wash (to kill bugs and remove stains). The clothes would then be hung in hangers, steamed and tagged before being put out to display. There is a whole process involved before the clothes are made available for re-sale. Ideally, you wouldn’t be able to see or smell the sweat stains on pre-used clothing.

I should mention that in my store, I occasionally came across high end brands which were sold at a steep discount. Often, these were never worn by the owner or worn a time or two at maximum. I once found a pair of Fendi Boots for £300 knocked down from a £1900 retail price. They were a size too small unfortunately. I almost had a Grim Brothers’ thought moment, but decided against chopping off my toes to fit into the shoes at that price. The thrift shop was also an interesting way to explore new brands that you may not have come across on the high street or in the malls in your vicinity.

You could find daily essentials for a budget steal. During peak winters, I remember buying myself a coat. It was the first neutral coloured coat I bought, from the shop I worked at for £15, only to find out later that it was pure cashmere. As a student, saving money always felt good. As an earning/struggling millennial, saving still feels good, although with the bombardment of advertisements in India, the opportunity to do so seems less. Lastly, shopping from thrift stores kind of eased my conscience about the environmental cost of my purchases. Working at the thrift store definitely made me introspect about the waste problem and how I fit into it.

Let’s take our vivid imaginations for a drive. We are complacent in our ignorance. We live in denial about how and where our waste ends up or is ultimately treated. Imagine, on a long drive with your significant other, you notice a hill near your city. That’s odd; you never knew your local terrain to have hills so you drive closer to check out this potential scenic view. As you approach, your senses are assaulted with the stench of a city’s waste which was not segregated. Smell something fishy? That’s our unsegregated waste, and clothing items make up almost 30% of it.

The safai karamchari, who comes to pick up your society’s waste, simply dumps it all in the same basket, and the local corporation which was supposed to manage the city’s solid waste couldn’t care less. So it stands there, a hill of waste, towering over you, taunting you about the economy in boom. It is urging you to go back into your bubble world of consumerism where you can shop to make yourself feel better and forget about where your waste truly goes.  

If we collected the total waste we generated, right at our doorstep for an entire year, we would maybe start to the see the point of the advice ‘waste management must begin at home’.

Thrifting can reduce waste, and maximize the utility of a product. Until the thrifting culture takes root in India, I can leave you with a few suggestions on how to practice consciousness to reduce waste and curb environmental impact of your fashion choices in your daily lives and your coveted wardrobes:

Mend your clothes: Get them rafoo’d or cover that old stain with new embroidery or that rip with a logo tag.

Recycle your old clothes: I found a like-minded tailor in my city, who was very enthusiastic about upcycling my mom’s old sarees into modern ethic outfits for me. So far, he has helped me recycle 4 sarees into: a sharara, 2 lehengas, and a gown with a cape. This supports the local artisans and people who rely on tailoring to earn their daily wage in my local community.

Upcycle your old clothes: Worn a dress too many times? Cut it into a skirt and a crop top. Love a jumpsuit that you were seen in too many times? Cut it into a playsuit and a handbag. Cut out old jeans into capris or shorts over summers. Took the sleeves out of old tops and added lace or contrast fabric to upcycle it to look different. This way, you always know what’s in your wardrobe and your style is never stale.

Set up a clothes’ swap with your friends, family or siblings: I don’t believe that t-shirts should be gendered even if they are, but I shop from the men’s tshirt section because they are longer and have more design options in round necks. I constantly swap t-shirts with my brother who also likes wearing round neck t-shirts.

Fashion for rent: Nowadays there are rent-a-runway type companies that are disrupting the fashion industry. Be a rebel and rent an outfit this festive season.

It’s time to be a little mindful about how our actions impact the environment, and just a little effort can go a long way.

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